NEW YORK (AP) - In his improbable run on "American Idol," Sanjaya Malakar was the one to watch.
The stringbean teen with the megawatt smile worked his strange magic on the show's stage week after week, captivating millions and horrifying Simon Cowell, his loudest critic.
Did Malakar lack talent? For sure. Was he boring? Not by a long shot.
His reign of goofy charm finally ended Wednesday night, when he was voted off the top-rated Fox sing-off. When the result was announced, Malakar wiped away tears and got a big hug from LaKisha Jones, the next lowest vote-getter.
"I'm fine," he told Ryan Seacrest. "It was an amazing experience."
"I can promise you: We won't soon forget you," Seacrest replied.
Malakar then performed one last song, "Something To Talk About." Putting his own twist on the song, the 17-year-old known for his pretty looks and ever-changing hairstyles ad-libbed: "Let's give them something to talk about ... other than hair."
On Tuesday night's show, Cowell had slammed his performance as "utterly horrendous." And for once, the notoriously mean judge was vindicated.
"I'm beginning to sense something here," a grinning Cowell said when Malakar wound up in the bottom three.
Six contestants are now left: Jones, Blake Lewis, Jordin Sparks, Chris Richardson, Melinda Doolittle and Phil Stacey.
Malakar was routinely savaged by Cowell as he developed into one of the weakest, most awkward "Idol" finalists ever. Still, the gangly teen managed to outlast better singers by cultivating an unlikely fan base that helped him survive round after round of viewer elimination.
Though his breathy, childlike singing voice paled in comparison with other finalists, his ability to stand out kept him in the competition. He consistently delivered the season's most talked-about performances, even daring to sport a ponytail mohawk that added pizazz to an otherwise tepid rendition of No Doubt's "Bathwater."
That, of course, wound up fodder for watercooler discussion on G-rated morning programs and smart-alecky Web sites, stoking suspicion that Malakar was self-consciously manipulating the media to carve a place in "American Idol" history.
Many had predicted that he would make it all the way to May finale. Among Malakar's supporters: radio shock jock Howard Stern and the Web site VotefortheWorst.com, which has long promoted the show's tone-deaf candidates. (Previous targets include surly Scott Savol and sweet-natured Kevin Covais. Cult superstar William Hung never even made it to Hollywood.)
Malakar also had the backing of friends and family in his home state of Washington. "He's very handsome. That's most of it," marveled his friend Pat Wright, a gospel choir director in Seattle. "He's a teenager, and young girls and guys really like him."
Malakar seemed buoyed by his widespread fame.
"Welcome to the universe of Sanjaya!" he proudly proclaimed on a recent telecast, following a backhanded compliment from an exasperated Cowell.
Indeed, after panning another of Malakar's performances, Cowell threw up his arms and said there was nothing he could say to prevent people from voting for the oddball-turned-national phenomenon.
But, in the end, Malakar could not win enough votes to join the ranks of Taylor Hicks, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.